A/N- What a long, strange trip it's been... Well, actually, no. This has got to be the fastest ten and a half chapters I have ever written. Ever. Except when I was writing my first novel... that went pretty fast... But back to the point, thank you, all you wonderful people, for reading this story and for encouraging me to take what started as a totally random, pointless plot bunny into this quasi-epic thinglet.

And yes, this chapter is one giant fluff-fest. I really couldn't help myself. Erik deserves a bit of fluff in his life after getting repeatedly screwed over by absolutely everyone.

Three Years Later

Three years ago, he had been going about his life just as he always had, living alone in the darkness. He'd had nothing to his credit but his music and even that was really just a precious secret only he and one young soprano had ever known. At that time, he had felt himself utterly beyond salvation. It was funny, Erik thought, how things could change.

After Meg had professed her love for him that day beneath the opera house, things had happened with a speed that still left him reeling to think of it. They had argued that day... well, he had ranted, insisting that he would not be the cause of her imprisonment in his hellish prison. She had stood by and waited until he had spent his stubbornness, then calmly proposed a compromise. They had left Paris a week later, much to her mother's fury. He shuddered to remember the fit Antoinette had thrown when she finally caught up with them.

It transpired that he was a very wealthy man. He had never given much thought to the salary he drew, allowing Antoinette to deposit it in the Credít Mobiliér and spending only what he found he needed to. He had picked the initial number out of the air on a whim. Twenty thousand had seemed like a decent amount. But seven years of extorting that much each month had provided him with substantially full pockets, and it had been more than enough for himself and Meg to start a new life in Vienna.

And what a life it was! Erik could say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the past few years had been the happiest times he had ever had. That was not to say that they had been without hardships, but compared to the way things had been before, he was more content than he really knew what to do with. He had doled out a portion of that considerable wealth to purchase a modest house in Vienna. Well... modest compared to the Opera Populaire. It was really rather impressive, for a town-house, Erik supposed. He wasn't the best judge of such things, but Meg had fallen in love with the place on sight and that had been more than enough to make up his mind, and as yet he hadn't regretted it. After spending most of his life underground, he gloried in the high windows that filled the house with sunshine even in the long Austrian winters; even better, there was a large wine cellar beneath the property which he could retreat to on the rare occasions when his agoraphobic tendencies showed themselves.

Before they had left Paris, he and Meg had worked together to gather all his compositions together, bound up neatly and taking up what turned out to be the majority of their baggage. It was this that had earned him his current employment. She had talked him into showing one of his operas to the concertmaster of the Vienna Staatsoper. It had been purchased on the spot, and somehow- he was never quite sure afterward how it came about- he wound up being contracted both as a resident composer and an artistic advisor. He found that his mask and his standoffish demeanor earned him some funny looks, but thanks to Meg, he didn't mind quite so much.

Meg... it all came down to her, didn't it? Erik was under no delusions that he was a good man. There was something fundamental in him that life had broken which could not be repaired. Meg, though, made him feel more whole and real than he could ever remember feeling before.

His angel had found employment in the chorus at the Staatsoper. He had been surprised at her refusal to audition for the ballet, but she had explained that she'd rather keep dancing as her own private joy, rather than turning it into just a job. He could certainly understand that. Occasionally there had been times when his manager's demands that he complete some task on a schedule other than his own nearly sent him into a blind fury. It was only Meg's presence just a few feet away on the stage that calmed him during these times.

Erik remembered something he had once read when he was studying the works of Plato, a suggestion that each soul was divided in two and cursed to wander the earth forever until they found the other part. He had no doubts whatsoever that Plato had been correct, because there was no question that Meg was the lost half of himself. For so many years he had been trapped and alone, but she had found him, and he was pretty sure meeting her had saved his life.

He still carried some lingering feelings for Christine. No one really forgot their first love, he supposed. Meg, though, meant much more to him than Christine ever had. She was his salvation, his best friend, and the woman who continually saved him from his own deeply flawed nature. She loved him without reserve. He didn't know why, and he no longer questioned it, choosing instead to simply accept the miracle that was Meg.

They had been married on New Years Day, exactly one year after their first real meeting. Antoinette did not approve, though Erik wasn't sure whether her disapproval was of them as a couple, or of the fact that they had quite blatantly been living in sin for months before their marriage. As always, the woman was a confounded mystery.

Raoul and Christine were married as well, he had heard, though they had not seen the pair again since that last confrontation beneath the opera house. He knew that Meg and Christine wrote frequently, and the latter had begun a concert tour that would certainly bring her to Vienna eventually. Perhaps they would all meet face-to-face once more and put the old animosities behind them at last. Erik hoped so. He had systematically purged his life of the man he used to be, and laying things to rest with the de Chagny's would be the last step in leaving O.G. behind him at last.

The sound of soft footsteps behind him announced Meg's presence. He smiled automatically at the sound of her approach, an expression which settled more firmly in place when he felt her hand on his shoulder. She peered down at the absentminded sketch he had been working on and he could practically feel her glow as she observed his subject. She would never admit it, but she loved it when he drew her. In this picture, though, she did not appear as he had always seen her. The charcoal Meg on the page was a little softer around the edges, with a little round belly showing beneath her skirt.

She presented him with the news a month ago. Erik was terrified. He was no father. He didn't have the faintest idea how to be one. Moreover, there was the lingering worry that he would contaminate this child, that the poor, innocent thing will bear his likeness. No child should be cursed as he was. But Meg held his hand and reassured him and as always, her warmth and her belief in him held his demons at bay. He loved her. God help him, he loved her more every second. He hadn't known it was possible to feel this way, but there it was, and there she was, far too good and far too wonderful to possibly love him in return, and yet she did. She had consented to be his wife (she had confided in him that if he had asked earlier, she would have married him much sooner), and she carried his child. It was a mystery to him.

"Johanna has laryngitis," she said, naming the soprano who was to sing Armida in the next evening's production of Rinaldo.

He turned to look at her, surprised and more than a little worried. "What? But she was the understudy!" The original spinto had quite literally broken a leg. (Erik wasn't going to guarantee he'd had nothing to do with that, but he hadn't gone out of his way to ensure it. He had merely arranged the option for such a thing to happen. Frankly, the woman had destroyed her voice years before, and it wasn't going to get any better. He was pretty sure Meg suspected him, but she hadn't said anything outright, which made him feel guiltier than an accusation would have.)

"Yes, she is," Meg confirmed.

"So who's singing the part?" he asked.

A sly smile crossed Meg's face. "Poor Ludwig was pretty desperate," she informed him, naming the conductor of the Staatsoper orchestra. "He was going around begging the chorus to let him know if someone knew the role..." She trailed away, leaving the rest up to him to work out.

Meg had studied the role of Armida with his help not too long ago- her range was just long enough that she could sing it even as a mezzo.

Erik grinned at her as the realization struck. He got to his feet and pulled her into a sweet kiss, drowning as always in the essence of Meg. He felt her smile against his mouth. Yes, things certainly had changed, he thought. Life was pretty good.

And now for my next trick... Here, watch the trailer for my next piece of E/M fanfiction: www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=OM7QxoG6N8I

It isn't the best-made trailer ever (there's something kinda wonky with the audio that I can't seem to sort out), but it'll give you an idea of what's coming up in the next three weeks or so.